Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Beatification of Paul Yun Ji-chung

Beatification of Paul Yun Ji-chung and 123 martyr companions at the Gwanghwamun Gate recently was a memorable day for our Christians. An essay in the Catholic Times reflects on the meaning of what happened on that day: Korean history and Catholic history came together.  Before we lose the enthusiasm, the essayist wants us to reflect on three points that arise from the beatification.

Blessed Paul Yun was the first one on the list of martyrs beatified that day. Because of a decree that came from the bishop of Beijing, Blessed Paul burned the ancestral tablet and when his mother died he performed the funeral  according to the Catholic rite instead of the Confucian rite. Confucianism, the writer reminds us, is still very strong in Korea. If one should destroy the ancestral tablets even in the 21st century there would be a lot of finger pointing. Paul  had passed the first exam for public office, was the son of a noble family and caused great scandal. He was a person different from that of his age.

Magistrates tried cajoling and force to change his thinking, but to no avail; he was martyred in 1791.The most prominent among those beatified on August 16, 2014.  Paul Yun Ji-chung, became Korea's first Catholic martyr when he was executed. Ordinary citizens  would see these Catholics as persons without respect for parents and king: lack of loyalty and filial piety  and worthy of death; they were against the basic values of society.

Secondly we see the situation of Catholicism change in a short period of time. From being a bunch of depraved individuals to dignified members of society.  Since the values of politics and religion are different there has been pressure before and after on religion.  During the Chosen dynasty, Buddhism was oppressed; in this modern  world we have had religious demonstrations and signs of dissatisfaction. Catholicism for over  a hundred years was a persecuted community that is today accepted. We would not find the  equivalent of such a quick change in Korean history.

On the day of the beatification the Christians gathered in the center of Seoul in the Gwanghawmun plaza where  at the time of the persecution their  death was decided and taken to Seosomun where they were executed. Did any of the children of the martyrs ever think that their ancestors would  be honored some two hundred years later in the very place they were condemned to die?

Thirdly we have the timely remarks of the pope on this occasion. These early martyrs formed a  beautiful  community of equality in a  time where we had droughts, famine, and corrupt officials. Social position and discrimination between men and women was a part of society. These early Christians challenged the culture and lived the Gospel life of equality.

The pope reminded us of these beginnings. Lay people took the initiative and began the community of faith. With their intelligence, faith and curiosity they took pride in their efforts, and the pope asked that we don't forget this message of equality from the early Church.

In conclusion the writer wants to bring to our attention the words from the government documents from the time of the persecution. During the interrogation of the martyrs in 1801 on three different occasions we have them saying that there will be a Church built on the grave of Yun Ji-chung. These are the prophetic words that we the descendents of the martyrs need to examine.